Conflict Resolution Tips for Responders
Active and passive resistance can both be used to keep a violent situation from erupting.
When first responders reach the site of an
emergency that is in progress, it is often
unnerving and unsettling. They must
keep their wits about them and perform
their duty, all the while focusing on their own personal
safety. And in certain situations, first responders must
work to deflate rising levels of emotionalism to prevent
The Safety Center Inc. offers a conflict resolution class
that features training for how to deal with people during
emergencies to supplement a first responder’s initial field
training. Senior Staff Instructor Bruce Anderson, a former
police officer, said the main focus of the class is to
teach first responders how to control the situation better
and not be controlled by it.
“It’s not really anything new; it’s the same basics that
we teach anybody. But we want them to know the indicators
of violence that they should watch for in conflict
and what that fine line is,”Anderson said.
Anderson begins his class with a reminder of the three
basic rules of survival: stay aware, stay together, and run
as fast as you can.Anderson also points out the best traits
used for defense are skill, prevention, awareness, and attitude.
“You have to be able to evolve with what is going
on around you. 9/11 is a perfect example. Nothing like
that ever happened to us before,” he said.“Never assume
that the situation is going to be ideal.”
The formula for a conflict, if known, is simple to recognize.
When people, differing views, and a triggering
event come together, the potential for a conflict is great.
Assessing the Situation
There are four basic human needs:power,belonging,happiness,
and freedom.And any time these needs are compromised,
there is a potential for conflict,Anderson said.
“There are a lot of factors—when you’re dealing with
people’s emotions being the biggest one.When you bring
emotions into a crisis situation, you eliminate logic and
reason,” Anderson said. According to him, most people
become emotional when they are given something they
don’t want or something is taken away from them.
Emotion, gain, competition, relationships, peer pressure,
and personal attitude are all contributing factors in
how a person is influenced to behave at any time. Anderson
makes a point of acknowledging that victims and
victims’ families aren’t the only sources of conflict during
“There’s always going to be peer pressure among the
ranks. Old guys don’t change their ways and new guys
want to become the old guys, but they don’t have the experience,”
Anderson said.“But it’s important to remember
that machismo, cowboy antics can get people killed.
Verbal indicators of impending violence include abusive
language, threats, mentioning weapons, making unreasonable
demands, self-righteousness, and using curse
words. Physical signs to watch out for include a change
in posture, staring, clenched fists, staggering, and appearing
nervous or anxious.
Anderson warned that any threat of violence should
be considered real, and emergency responders should
give plenty of space between themselves and the person
who is issuing the threats. “You have a right to do nothing
if you think it will ensure survival,” he said.
Active and passive resistance can both be used to keep
a violent situation from erupting. Both verbal and nonverbal
techniques can be applied, as well as non-aggressive
physical contact.Active resistance is more about creating
an opportunity for escape and getting away from
This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.